W O M E N O F A N C I E N T D A Y S
E X A M P L E S O F F E M I N I N E C O U R A G E
“An excellent woman [one who is spiritual, capable, intelligent, and virtuous], who is he who can find her?” Proverbs 31:10
I’ve been really lucky to grow up in a church environment that highly champions the feminine heart and contribution. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been inspired by a company of female leaders, pastors, preachers, servers, and also friends who take an active and appreciated role within both the local and global church. I’ve learnt that though men and women have surely been created differently – with different responsibilities, roles, gifts and functions – we have also been created intrinsically and equally important [made without rival]. We are equally able to enrich, enhance and embellish the world around us and I believe that it’s God’s heart for us to do so.
We can see how the word of God cultivates this philosophy in action through Jesus’ counter-cultural regard for women.
For Part Two of Women of Influence, I’ve decided to write about a handful of women from the bible. After this year’s Colour Conference, I was challenged to begin learning about the women of the bible. I decided that it was time for me to actually stop, sit down, research and educate myself about those who paved the way for us from the outset. These women were not passive, helpless or timid like you might expect, they were audacious, assertive, strong and rebellious. Women who challenged authority, crossed borders and stood among the greats.
Who are some of the women of the Bible? What did they do? What was their place? What does God say about them? What does that mean, as for us?
So here’s a list I’ve put together – the idea is to highlight a variety of both renowned and unrenowned women of old (some you may know, and others you might not). I hope that in learning more about them, you’ll also learn more about yourself, how God sees you and what he beckons you to.
Here we go:
Co-founder of the early church
Different but equal
Priscilla and her husband Aquilla were much-loved friends of Paul. They laboured together in their service of building the church in its infancy. Priscilla’s name itself translates to ‘primitive’, ‘worthy’ and ‘venerable’ – a name perfectly befitting for her as it reflects what we know and have heard about her. She was something of a mover and shaker – she was strong-minded, fervent in her love for God, intelligent, hospitable and articulate. Priscilla and Aquilla made their living together and were friends, spouses and companions. As husband and wife, they were a team working as one (maybe the power couple of the bible?). Side by side, they often risked their lives for the sake of their faith. They traveled with Paul to Syria, where Priscilla taught everyone she could about Jesus. The couple are always mentioned together in the bible (never one without the other) and show us how men and women are equal as persons but different in function. Priscilla’s use of gifts to nurture the church in its early days is an inspiration to us today.
Esteemed and valued apostle
Lost in translation
There’s no doubt that women have been written out of the histories of culture and literature. I may not be a bible scholar or a historian, but I do know that throughout time, women have often been misrepresented, underrepresented, silenced, and in this case, even lost in translation. I think that the women who have been silenced in history, deserve to be talked about today, which is why I want to tell you about Junia.
Junia was also a co-laborer of Paul – a prisoner and noted apostle of authority who served alongside him in his ministry. In fact, she is the only female apostle named in the bible. In Romans 16:7, Paul writes:
“Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kingsmen and my fellow prisoners who are of note among the apostles, who were also in Christ before me.”
‘Of note among‘ can also be translated to ‘outstanding among‘ and ‘esteemed by‘, showing us how highly regarded and respected she was. I imagine her to have been smart, purposeful and zealous. We don’t know much about Junia, but we know that she would have been a hard and diligent worker, a doer and an influencer.
Though widely accepted as a female apostle throughout early Church history, there has been great debate surrounding the gender of Junia. In later translations of the bible, an “s” was added to the end of her name, turning it into the masculine form, Junias. The reasoning behind this is still unknown, whether it was political, a scribes grammatical mistake, a biased translation or an attempt to deny that women could be apostles. Was it a reflection of an institutional and historical prejudice against women? We don’t know. But what we do know is that any masculine form of the name Junia was actually non-existent during those times (the masculine name Junias does not occur in any ancient Greek inscription). More recently, scholars have acknowledged that the name is definitively feminine. The NIV translation of the bible also corrected the name in the 2011 revision, along with many other gender-related corrections.
The New Revised Standard Version has translated Romans 16:7 as:
“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.”
I think that her work in partnership with Andronicus and Paul demonstrates God’s commission for men and women to work together in harmony and strength.
Mary of Nazareth
The woman honoured above all women
Mother of Jesus
Mary of Nazareth is without a doubt the most well-known female in the bible. She’s described as the woman honoured above all women. She was a humble village girl from Galilee, from the tribe of Judah and the line of David. What we know about her is that she was poor, gentle and lowly but came to occupy the highest place among women. We also know that she possessed beauty of character and she was “highly favoured of the Lord” (Luke 1:28). She was the Father’s choice as the mother of his beloved. At 13 years old, Mary would be the one to nurse and care for Jesus, guide his steps through infancy and boyhood, surrounding him with motherly love and attention. Mary was young, poor and female – 3 qualities that made her highly unsuitable in the eyes of her people to be used (let alone mightily used) by God, but nonetheless he carefully and lovingly chose her and sanctified her. Mary was beautifully submitted and brave – she surrendered her whole life, body and reputation, taking on the shame of being an unmarried pregnant woman. She knew that her submission would be costly – she was going to be disgraced, shunned and ridiculed by her society. Pregnancy would risk her life, dreams and plans, yet still she said:
“I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled”.
The Daughter’s of Zelopehad
Unafraid to challenge authority
The time to come forward
I’ve decided to explain the story of the 5 daughter’s of Zelopehad a little deeper and more extensively than the other women mentioned within this piece, but hang on with me and stay locked in because we have so much to learn from them. Here’s why:
Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah were the 5 daughters of Zelophehad (you can read about their story of bravery in Numbers 27). History indicates that Zelophehad was a man of God who died during the 40 years when the Israelites were wandering through the wilderness. However, since he had no sons, he had no heir to inherit his land in Israel after his death. A census was taken to count all of the men (over 20) in the area in order to share and distribute land between them. This meant that Zelophehad’s 5 daughters, being women in the customs of their time (depending wholly on their fathers, brothers or husbands), would not be counted or included in this census and would therefore be left without any right to their father’s land or inheritance. They were left destitute and fatherless, can you imagine their pain? So what did they do? You might expect that women of such a time – heirs to Egyptian slavery under chauvinist law – would respond by staying silent and by accepting the rule decreed for them to follow.
What they did, however, was this:
“They came forward 2 and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly at the entrance to the tent of meeting and said, 3 “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company of those who banded together against the Lord, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. 4 Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.”
They looked at the law and their history which they wisely understood well and they made a conclusion. They decided that this law was not complete – they believed that God’s heart was big enough to see them, hear them and provide for them. They knew that they were rightful heirs to the Promise Land and so they petitioned and made an appeal for change.
I love that they came forward.
In my imagination, I see them walking boldly towards the entrance of the tabernacle [tent of meeting, place of holiness and authority], opening up the doors with strong hands, walking through the centre (probably trembling a little but still with their heads held high) and standing before the assembly of leaders (which would have been a congregation of high-ranking men). Their coming forward was significant and historical as they questioned and challenged authority in a way that was unheard of in their era. After Moses (rightly and intelligibly) took the unprecedented case to God, this is what happened:
5 So Moses brought their case before the Lord, 6 and the Lord said to him, 7 “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property and possession as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them”.
God’s response surely ruled in the favour of his daughters. He adjudicated on their behalf and his answer was loving and generous. He told Moses “you must CERTAINLY give them property”. God was quick and confident to grant them equality and justice. He did not withhold their inheritance or birthright based on their gender. He did not treat or regard them any differently.
Their story encapsulates the challenges that women faced and what they had to do in order to affirm their rights with dignity. It celebrates boldness and conviction. They challenged the injustice of their day because they were not content to simply leave it that way.
I love this preach by Pastor Tatyana C. Nixon where she further delves into their story and explains how faith is manifested by the quality of our determination: